Tumblr To Fediverse: The Rent Is Too Damn High!

A long time ago, in a pre-COVID place not so far away, there was a politician from the streets who ran on a platform to lower rental prices in New York.

Image via: TMZ

He complained that his constituents could not afford housing because the rent was “too damn high!”

While the video above is hilarious, it mirrors a current problem within the Tumblrverse.

Several months ago, Automattic CEO Matt Mullegnweg revealed that Tumblr struggles to generate meaningful revenue despite its loyal fan base.

According to Mullenweg, Tumblr is spending about $30 million more than it makes each year. This isn’t too surprising, given Tumblr’s history as a company. Founded in 2007, the blogging site was acquired by Yahoo (TechCrunch’s parent company) for $1 billion in 2013. But by 2019, WordPress.com parent Automattic bought Tumblr for just $3 million. Though it has a loyal base of power users, Tumblr has also struggled to grow its daily active users since its infamous porn ban.

(Via TechCrunch)

So what does Tumblr’s financial woes have to do with its promised future of federation‽ Well, allegedly, the cost of embracing the Fediverse might make activating ActivityPub a pain in the arse!

According to a screenshot by @_jv_ (the former worked at Tumblr), an answer to a question submitted to a current Tumblr engineer may hint at why we might not see Tumblr enter the Fediverse anytime soon due to the “cost of admission.”

serious question, obviously you’re not the best person to talk about mastodon to but like. you reblogging someone that acknowledged that @photomatt said tumblr would implement activitypub; this is closest thing to an official acknowledgement of tumblr activitypub integration on Tumblr. Matt announced it impromptu in a single tweet and never talked about it again. I just assumed it’s been canned now, or at least, significantly delayed, is there a reason activitypub integration was never properly announced
on tumblr?

From @oct2pus (they confirmed asking this question)

it’s been delayed, but it’s something in our list for
@labs and we’re evaluating it. my concern, re: activitypub, is that while federation is a really great idea, it’s never had a good product. it doesn’t really fulfill a widespread need, it’s very niche. nobody is joining threads or bluesky because it will federate someday. so i don’t think it would help grow tumblr at all. actually i think it would likely end up costing more than it makes, which is a

but stay tuned!

From Cyle on Tumblr
Screenshot of user asking Tumblr Engineer about ActivityPub Activation

Later on, Javi (who worked at Tumblr) confirmed that ActivityPub is (more or less) on the back burner for financial reasons.

i know, I was working for tumblr when the Twitter thing happened and we scrambled to put together a project. I was the one supposed to do all the web UI work.
Once my backend counterpart did some initial investigation and scoping, and it became obvious it was a complex task and that it would become a cost center without any chance to generate any cashflow, the project was quietly put on long-term hold.

From Javi A.

Note: There were a few more relevant & recent posts on Mastodon, but they will not be displayed here to avoid bruising egos.

Although freely embracing ActivityPub would be ideal, Tumblr should not integrate the technology at the expense of the site itself (after all, they also have bills to pay).

There is no shame in declaring that the Federation is too expensive. Other platforms (Medium, Facebook & Instagram) are also forgoing embracing the Fediverse (probably for similar reasons), & Tumblr’s worth will not decline because they made a fiscally sound decision.

However, if Tumblr still wants to enter the Fediverse, there are a few alternative options available, ranging from “geeky free” to “pay to play.”

The WordPress Workaround

After releasing an updated ActivityPub plugin to the WordPress world, @mattwiebe.blog@mattwiebe.blog revealed on X (formally Twitter) that WordPress.com users would be able to join the Fediverse without needing to upgrade to a business plan (the latter which allows plugins).

ActivityPub 1.0.0 for #WordPress is released today! Activate and your WP blog can now be followed in the fediverse, and receive replies back as comments. Huge props to

@pfefferle and all of our contributors!

From Matt Wiebe on X

any changes since this? https://techcrunch.com/2023/03/13/wordpress-com-owner-automattic-acquires-an-activitypub-plugin-so-blogs-can-join-the-fediverse/ how soon for dot com?

From Sarah Perez on X

Here’s our changelog! The main points are the blog-wide account (before it was only per-author), and the two new Blocks, but tons of bug fixes, a security audit, and compatibility with various networks too. Dotcom is coming very soon!

From Matt Wiebe on X

Tumblr users could create a WordPress Workaround by having content created on Tumblr be automatically (pun not intended) copied upon an inexpensive or free WordPress account that is already a part of the Fediverse.

Another option is for WordPress users to utilize the power of IFTTT (If This, Then That) to copy their posts upon their shiny dot com WordPress sites.

Those with custom domains can have their WordPress blog operate as a subdomain from their Tumblr blog & connect to the Fediverse that way.

Paying The Tumblr Toll

A better option would be for Tumblr to charge a monthly fee (say $5 per month) to activate ActivityPub on their Tumblr blog. As a bonus, paying members would receive an icon declaring their blog is open to the Fediverse, as well as premium support when dealing with spam.

Automattic could also make Fediverse activation an exclusive feature for Tumblr users with custom domains, which would help lessen the appeal for spammers (plus prevent Tumblr’s domain from being blocked due to spam).

What Should Tumblr Do‽

Regardless of Tumblr’s decision, yours truly will continue to use the platform. Hopefully, Tumblr figures out an inexpensive way to activate ActivityPub as the community is one of the few who would fit in perfectly within the Fediverse.